The Diet for Brass

On Christmas Eve I was privileged to take part in JETA’s (Japan Euphonium Tuba Association’s) 20th Anniversary Festival. It was a wonderful day; concerts with the very best Japanese soloists, a tuba ensemble competition and ending in a huge tuba ensemble said to have been more than 80 players playing Christmas chorals, which I was honored to conduct.

I was also honored to be a judge in the tuba/euphonium ensemble competition. The level was high, very high, but while listening to these ensembles I was reminded over and over again of the complaint regarding euphonium that I expressed in my article in TubaNews issue 16, A Curmudgeon’s Confessions. Those two problems just won’t go away. 1- the euphonium has a big problem keeping up with the tuba dynamically in f and ff and 2- the euphonium looses resonance and tonal center when it approaches the higher register. Why?

Sometimes it wasn’t too bad; many of the ensembles had 30% to 50% more euphoniums than tubas, this helped regarding dynamics but it did not help the high register.

A brass instrument player, any brass instrument, needs to maintain three distinct styles of playing to be complete and thorough: 1- Technique (Kopprasch, Arban), 2- Legato cantabile (Rochut, Bordogni), and 3- Marcato tenuto quasi symphonic (Blazhevich). Sometimes I like to call it marcato tenuto quasi symphonic cantabile! It’s like a good diet; to be healthy one must have all the right nutrients. Of course, these etude books mentioned above are not the only materials that cover these necessary styles but they are very good examples.

These three styles are interdependent; each needs the other two to be optimum. Frequently, we will get enough of one particular style in the kind of playing that we do the most; a symphony player, for example, probably doesn’t need to spend much time on the marcato tenuto style; he plays that way much of the time in his work. But what if the marcato tenuto style is missing in ones daily routine? Forte playing will develop very slowly or not at all and the high register will not develop equally in strength and resonance to the other registers.

Clearly, the euphonium is less frequently required to play this marcato tenuto symphony orchestra style than the other brass instruments, which is a very logical explanation why euphonium players show a proclivity to be under developed in that mode.

I was told by a very prestigious euphoniumist/teacher recently that tubists should not try and teach euphonium; perhaps he’s right but I have to point out that my euphonium students (I have 11) have shown very good results just by including Blazhevich in their daily practice routines (diets). If Blazhevich is not challenging enough for a euphoniumist then try the Brandt studies for trumpet, they are wonderful, interesting and very enjoyable etudes in that same marcato tenuto style and highly recommended not only for euphoniumists.

Developing skills on our instruments is really a way of developing musical vocabulary, and the greater our vocabulary in the abstract language of music the better we will be able to express ourselves.

As so many good friends have said to me lately: “Please watch your diet!” I feel guilty speaking about diets during the holiday season; the Japanese cuisine has been rich and abundant through the last month. I will watch my diet and face the necessary modifications I must make after New Years.

Tokyo, December 26, 2005

Etudes are like herring. Despite their obvious benefits, some students may find them hard to swallow!

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